Tibetans defied an official ban from the Chinese government on 21 June to celebrate the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader still revered by many Tibetans and their supporters worldwide.

The Dalai Lama. Photo: WikiMedia

According to US-funded Radio Free Asia, Tibetan monks and villagers gathered in an open area in Ganzi Prefecture to wish the 14th Dalai Lama a happy birthday.

An altar and offerings were laid in front of a portrait of the Dalai Lama and attendants recited prayers. A banner offering birthday wishes to the exiled leader was also raised at the site.

Buddhist monks in Tibet. Photo: WikiMedia

Chinese authorities have long taken a hostile attitude towards the Dalai Lama. In an editorial published by the state-owned Global Times, the Dalai Lama was recently labelled a “double betrayer” to both Tibet and his faith after he suggested that the Tibetan people have a say in his line of succession. The officially atheist government of China insists that it alone can decide who the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is.

The Dalai Lama now resides in the city of Dharamsala in northern India, which has served as the base of the Tibetan government in exile since a failed uprising against Beijing’s rule in 1959. Despite accusations of separatism, however, the Dalai Lama has for decades advocated a peaceful resolution to the issue of Tibet’s status, arguing that it should not become independent but be given meaningful autonomy within the People’s Republic.

In 2011, he surrendered his power over the Central Tibetan Administration to an elected civilian government, which he has pledged is “not designed to take power in Tibet” but will be dissolved “as soon as freedom is restored in Tibet”.

During his birthday speech, the Dalai Lama said he expected himself to live another 20 years. “I hope you will join me again to celebrate my 90th birthday,” he said.

Eric Cheung

Eric is currently a Bachelor of Journalism student at the University of Hong Kong. Eric has his finger on the pulse of Hong Kong events and politics. His work has been published on The Guardian, Reuters and ABC News (America).